History of Hearing Care

History of Hearing Care

The NCHA looked back through the archives to understand what we could learn, and how we could use this learning to improve hearing care in the UK.  What was originally a small in-house research project developed into a more extensive project and we felt it was important to share what we found. The history of hearing care below represents a summary of our findings.

The history of hearing care, as with many other resources we created because of it, is a resource we will update with time. If you have any comments or suggestions, why not contact us.

Sign Language

Deaf people used sign language to communicate.

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Before Electronic Hearing Aids

Before the electronic age people use ear trumpets to help them hear.

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RNID Established

Leo Bonn established the National Bureau for Promoting the General Welfare of the Deaf. The organisation would become the RNID.

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First Bone Conduction Hearing Aid

The first wearable bone conduction hearing aid is produced by Sonotone Corporation in the USA.

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The Medresco Hearing Aid

In the 1940s limitations in telephone technology led to the development of a state-manufactured hearing aid in the UK – the Medresco aid.

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NDCS Established

Parents set up a Society to improve access to and the quality of education for deaf children. The organisation would become the NDCS.

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Access to Hearing Support in the Early NHS

The NHS was founded. Hearing care was accessible to more people, improving equality of access. But concerns about travel costs were raised in the House of Commons.

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Inequalities in Access to Hearing Technology

The NHS helped reduce inequalities in access to hearing tests but people with hearing loss continued to experience inequalities in access to technology.

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Call for NHS Hearing Care Closer to Home

38 years before the RNID called for care closer to home, an MP had already raised the issue with Aneurin Bevan.

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Hearing Aid Uptake - NHS

In its first five years the NHS fitted 401,524 patients with a Medresco hearing aid.

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Breakthrough as Doctors Stimulate the Auditory Nerve Using an Electrode

French doctors in Paris stimulate the auditory nerve, signalling a breakthrough that would help invent the modern cochlear implant.

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Changes in Hearing Aids in the 1950s

By 1954 catastrophic diseases of the ear had become rare events.

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Hearing Aids in the 1950-60s

In the UK the State developed a new hearing aid but NHS patients continued to experience inequalities in access – e.g. one hearing aid when they had a hearing loss in both ears.

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Hearing Aid Council Established

The Hearing Aid Council is established to regulate non-NHS hearing care through the education, training and regulation of hearing aid dispensers.

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NHS Hearing Aids in the 1970s

By 1976 the NHS was suppling 350,098 hearing aids a year. Yet the UK continued to underinvest in R&D and inequalities in access to technology worsened.

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First Bone Conduction Implants

First three patients fitted with bone conduction hearing aid implants in Sweden.

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First Cochlear Implant Evaluation

First independent evaluation of cochlear implants published in the USA.

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Growing Hearing Need in the 1980s

The NHS had made it possible for people without the ability to pay to access hearing care, but inequalities in access continued to exist. Unmet hearing need was a growing public health problem.

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Gaps in Follow Up Care

In an increasingly consumer driven age the RNID began to receive complaints about NHS hearing aids. A consequent RNID survey in 1982-83 was the first to identify gaps in follow-up care.

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First Cochlear Implants Approved in USA

FDA in USA approves the first cochlear implant for use in adults. Cochlear implants for children were similarly approved in 1989.

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30 Years of System Failures

Repeated system failures in NHS audiology have been driven by relying on past activity to predict future need and NHS planners considering hearing loss a low priority.

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Charities Criticise Long Waits and Lack of Follow Up

“Breaking the Sound Barrier” launched with the goal of improving hearing outcomes for older people – including tackling unmet need.

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NHS Referral Pathway Challenged

Research starts to challenge barriers to accessing NHS hearing aids, highlighting how people who could pay did not have to see a doctor, but that NHS patients did.

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RNID Publishes Hearing Aids a Case for Change

With age of individualism in full swing the RNID launches a fair hearing campaign to put people with hearing loss at the centre of both NHS and non-NHS hearing care.

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RNID Chief Executive Urges Providers to Focus on the Customer

RNID warns hospitals that if they do not deliver hearing aid services closer to home then service users and the government might not fund NHS hearing care in the future.

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First Major UK Study of Hearing Loss Prevalence

The first major epidemiological study on hearing loss prevalence in Great Britain is published.

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Research Backs Direct Access to NHS Hearing Aid Services

Research shows that audiologists operating under clinical protocols can safely manage people with hearing loss.

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Heads of Audiology Confirm Care Closer to Home Major Benefit

Heads of NHS audiology agree that care closer to home has major benefits for people with hearing loss in terms of access and hearing aid use.

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RNID Launches It's Time for a Hearing Test campaign

RNID launch a campaign to reduce the number of people with unmet hearing needs by 1 million over five years.

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Calls to reform NHS Hearing Care

Follow-up care is key in supporting people in using their hearing aids. By May 1999, lack of follow-up care had been a concern for 16 years, with the RNID again calling for care closer to home.

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2000 - the new Millenium

Despite the clinical agreement that follow-up care improves hearing outcomes, by the Millennium, problems with lack of follow-up care had been documented for 18 years.

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Audit Commission Report Criticises Service Failures

The Audit Commission reviews NHS audiology and finds that a lack of investment and poor planning by some NHS commissioners means that hearing care is failing service users.

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The Change from Analogue to Digital

NICE did not initially recommend replacing analogue hearing aids with digital hearing aids, but later accepted digital hearing aids were a proven technology and withdrew its guidance.

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The Modernising Hearing Aid Services (MHAS) Programme Begins

The NHS finally addresses the longstanding inequity between public and private hearing care. Modernising Hearing Aid Services (MHAS) is launched.

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The 'Out of Hospital' Debate

The RNID call for hearing aid services to be delivered out of hospital and raise concerns about NHS commissioners bundling adult hearing care and ENT.

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MHAS launched in Wales

Modernising Hearing Aid Services (MHAS) is launched in Wales.

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Scottish Hearing Service Reviewed

Research highlights a lack of capacity and outcome measurement in the Scottish hearing service.

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WHO Recommends Hearing As Part of Active Ageing Strategies

World Health Organisation recommends that active ageing strategies should seek to address the hearing needs of the ageing population

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Audit Commission Update:Hearing Service Continue to Struggle

Audit Commission publishes two reports on NHS hearing care. It warns that a failure to follow past advice will pose a risk to services in the future. It was right.

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RNID Publishes Best Practice Standards for 'Adult Audiology'

Taskforce produces best practice standards for adult audiology. The project is part funded by the Department of Health.

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Scotland Joins the Modernising Hearing Aid Services (MHAS) Programme

The Scottish Executive invests £14 in modernising NHS hearing services.

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Sign Language

The Government recognises British Sign Language as a language in its own right.

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Hearing Screening For Newborns Introduced

Hearing needs of newborns recognised at last. Newborn hearing screening is rolled out across the UK.

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Research Confirms Hearing Aids Improve Quality of Life

Task Force publishes a systematic review on hearing aids showing hearing aids improve adults’ quality of life by reducing psychological, social, and emotional effects of hearing loss.

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Department of Health Backs Care Closer to Home

The Department of Health sets a clear goal that people with hearing loss should be able to access care closer to home - 57 years after the issue was first raised in the House of Commons.

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Hearing Care Waiting List Crisis - Health Select Committee

In 2007 waiting lists for NHS audiology broke the two year limit again. This system crisis was foreseeable and could have been avoided with effective commissioning.

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Royal College of Physicians Back Community Hearing Care

The Royal College of Physicians calls for more audiovestibular physicians to be trained and for audiologists to provide diagnostic services in primary care.

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Department of Health Backs Care Closer to Home for People with Hearing Loss

The Department of Health reconfirms its commitment to deliver hearing care closer to home.

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NHS Leaders Told to Focus on Shifting Services Out of Acute Hospitals

NHS Improvement programme urges NHS leaders to focus on delivering hearing care outside of acute hospitals and closer to people’s homes.

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29 Years On - Yet Another Report Identifies Gaps in Follow Up Care

Another report highlights gaps in follow-up care for people fitted with NHS hearing aids – a persistent challenge first documented in the 1980s.

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Lack of Follow Up Support reported in Scotland

Gaps in follow-up care. Older people in Scotland say they want more information before and after hearing aid fittings.

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Action on Hearing Loss Publishes Hearing Matters report

The RNID rebrands in early 2011 to Action on Hearing Loss. In its new guise it restates that the hospital model of care was not appropriate for the hearing needs of the ageing population.

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Hearing Selected as Priority for Reform

Patient and third sector feedback leads to NHS adult hearing services in England being selected as a priority for reform. Choice of out of hospital hearing care becomes a reality for some NHS patients.

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Research Confirms Lack of Awareness Delays Access to Hearing Care

Research confirms that the main reason for a delay in access to hearing care is that people with hearing difficulties do not seek help.

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NHS England Recommends Hearing Tests as Part of Active Ageing Strategy

The NHS in England advises people to have their hearing tested and treated sooner as part of a healthy ageing strategy?

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33 Years On - Gaps in Follow Up Care Persist

Another UK-wide report in 2015 identified gaps in follow-up care for people fitted with NHS hearing aids –33 years after they were first reported.

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NHS Regulator Publishes Positive Report on Extending Choice in Adult Hearing Services

The NHS regulator in England publishes a report on adult hearing services, showing the NHS can improve access, standards and value for money.

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North Staffs Chooses Cuts Over Commissioning

The NHS continues to consider adult hearing loss as a low priority. Rather than engaging with providers to make better use of budgets some NHS commissioners begin planning to restrict services.

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NHS England Publishes Action Plan on Hearing Loss

Healthcare leaders call for action on hearing loss. The NHS in England recognises hearing loss as a major public health challenge for the first time.

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Break-through Year for Rights of Deaf Community in Scotland

Scottish Parliament becomes first in UK to promote the use of British Sign Language (BSL).

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Coming soon

Our timeline will continue to track policies for the benefit of people with hearing loss in the UK and make it easier for stakeholders to hold system leaders to account.
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